Friday, October 23, 2009

The CBIA's Anti-Education Agenda

Today's Courant carries yet another in the endless litany of Connecticut Business and Industry Association's assault on education practice. No doubt they have a right to their own opinions. Sadly, these opinions are are profoundly ignorant of what education is, can be, and should be.

Today, it was John Rathgeber's turn to lip synch the propaganda that the CBIA has been repeating during good business times, bad business times, while they were irrationally exuberant, after they nearly melted down the entire financial system of global banking, and so on, Whatever ails society is education's responsibility and fault!

Some Rathberger quotes...
Connecticut is at risk of losing its advantage, as other states and countries are more effectively dealing with the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy. If we are to maintain our state's competitiveness and vitality, our education system must measure up.

If we are to keep pace, much of the burden — and opportunity — rests with our schools. We need to train today's students for tomorrow's jobs.

From preschool to high school and to our public universities, Connecticut must demand more for its investment in education by strengthening the curriculum and graduation requirements for all students — making certain they enter the workforce with the professional and technical skills they need.

The achievement gap between our high-performing schools and those that serve predominantly low-income and minority students must be eliminated.

Connecticut must strengthen its education system to anticipate and respond to employers' needs while emphasizing lifelong learning. That means more collaboration, greater coordination, better aligned curriculum and stronger awareness of the expectations of each level of education. It means parents, teachers and communities, businesses and nonprofits, every segment of our society coming together to ensure our progress.

It also means making postsecondary education an expectation for more of our young people, regardless of where they live or their family's income. Only then can we truly ensure today's youth a secure future, no matter which of the yet-to-be-invented jobs they may find themselves doing.

Never does Rathgeber offer a single piece of evidence to substantiate any of his claims. That would require research, an open-mind, and a wholesale turnabout in opinion. In fact it is this lack of veracity in the CBIA and their national counterparts claims that may be the reason that Connecticut and America's businesses are melting down.

It is easy for the CBIA to want to get into the affairs of education but what are their qualifications for doing so? If they are so sure of what businesses need then why not list those qualifications and where the businesses who he claims needs them are so that the tens of millions of us who are searching for work can apply?

The truth is that the bromides the CBIA is advocating are whole cloth fiction.

There is not a shred of credible evidence that CT is falling behind, above, around anyone.

And the fact of the matter is that job titles and responsibilities are changing so fast and furiously that a student entering college with one idea about a job may leave college only to find that job is obsolete for one reason or another.

Schools are not where we should train anyone for jobs, businesses have to hire smart, fungible, confident people to keep up and change with the times.

And the knee-jerk, obligatory "We need higher expectations, standards, blah, blah, blah" AND "we need cheaper, unionized, and disposable teachers who are all "great" teachers" rhetoric has been disproven over and over and over. If Rathgeber read this blog he'd see study after study refuting such claims.

The best thing the CBIA can do for education is to go out of business. It is a prime example of an enterprise that ignores factual data, repeats the same mistakes repeatedly, and doesn't learn.

The late Dr. Gerald Bracey wrote Nine Myths About Public Schools recently. It's worth reading. Here are some highlights that refute Rathgeber's assertions.

4. The United States is losing its competitive edge. China and India ARE Rising. As economies collapsed all around it, China's economy grew a remarkable 7% last year. On just humanitarian grounds, we should not wish China and India to remain poor forever, but the more they grow the more money they have to buy stuff from us. As China and India prosper, we prosper. The World Economic Forum and the Institute for Management Development have consistently ranked the U. S. economy as the most competitive in the world. Education is only one part of multi-factor systems in rankings. WEF is especially keen on innovation. Our obsession with testing makes testing a great instrument for destroying creativity.

5 The U. S. has a shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. This was a myth started oddly enough by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s in a study with assumptions so absurd the study was never published, but the myth lingers on. In fact, Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that we have three newly minted scientists and engineers who are permanent residents or native citizens for every newly minted job. Within 2 years, 65% of them were no longer in scientific or engineering fields. That proportion might have fallen during the current debacle when people are more likely to hang on to a job even if they hate it. An article in the September 18 Wall Street Journal reported that before the economy collapsed, 30% of the graduates of MIT--MIT--headed directly into finance.

7 The fastest growing jobs are all high-tech and require postsecondary education. "Postsecondary education" is a weasel word. A majority of the fastest growing jobs do, in fact, require some kind of postsecondary training. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for very few jobs. It's the Walmarts and Macdonald's of America that generate the jobs. According to the BLS, the job of retail sales accounts for more jobs than the top ten fastest growing jobs combined.

8 Test scores are related to economic competitiveness. We do well on international comparisons of reading, pretty good on one international comparison of math and science, and not so good on another math/science comparison. But these comparisons are based on the countries' average scores and average scores don't mean much. The Organization for Economic Cooperating and Development, the producer of the math science comparison in which we do worst has pointed out that in science the U. S. has 25% of all the highest scoring students in the entire world, at least the world as defined by the 60 countries that participate in the tests. Finland might have the highest scores, but that only gives them 2,000 warm bodies compared to the U. S. figure of 67,000. It's the high scorers who are most likely to become leaders and innovators. Only four nations have a higher proportion of researchers per 1000 fulltime employees, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Japan. Only Finland is much above the U. S.

Consider Japan, the economic juggernaut of the 1980's. It kids score well on tests and people made a causal link between scores and Japan's economy. But Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for almost a whole generation. Its kids still ace tests.

9 Education itself produces jobs. President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have both linked any economic recovery to school improvement. This is nonsense. There are parts of India where thousands of educated people compete for a single relatively low-level white-collar job. Some of you might recall that in the 1970's many sociologists and commentators worried that America was becoming TOO educated, that they would be bored by the work available.

1 comment:

Alan said...

National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our tactics and teach math via real life projects.

Alan Cook